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The Chronically Ill Housewife’s Guide To Adequate Housekeeping

My husband and I have been married just under two years now and all I can say is that I’m so glad he didn’t marry me for my housekeeping abilities. It’s not that I don’t know how to clean, my mother made sure that wasn’t the case. It’s not even that I hate to clean, I honestly ache to just clean my home from top to bottom in a single day.

No, alas, it’s that chronic illness has a way of squashing every good intention with its never ending limitations. I live in a world of trade-offs and exaggerated consequences. I spend my days bargaining to get the most out of my energy, but my reward for cleaning is more fatigue and more pain.

If you’re in the same boat, you’re probably looking for a magical list that will impart to you a profound wisdom and result in an impeccable home. You can stop reading and go hire a maid. The truth is, if you’re chronically ill and cleaning your own home, your house isn’t going to be impeccable. Let’s just get that laughably unrealistic notion out of the way right now and, instead, go for something actually attainable.

How does the word “adequate” sound? Isn’t that just music to your perfectionist’s ears? No, but really. Let’s shoot for adequate. And the first keys to adequate housekeeping are all about your mindset:

The Mindset Of Adequate Housekeeping

1. Be Prepared For Surprises.

Listen, I’m not gonna lie to you and tell you I don’t occasionally find messes that disgust me. It’s going to happen. Just this past week I threw away old frozen meat with the intention of taking the garbage straight out to the dumpster but in my distracted brain fog I forgot and five days later… well, my husband and I figured out where that smell was coming from.

If you’re appalled by that I’m not sure we can be friends. Sometimes you just have to be able to laugh at yourself and say, “It happens.”

2. Don’t Overvalue A Clean House.

I’m sure this goes against everything you were taught, but there comes a point where you have to realize that you can either have the energy to spend time with your husband in a little bit of clutter or you can be useless and grouchy every day in a clean house. There has to be a balance.

I’m not telling you to live in a pig sty and just give up. Living in a clean home is healthy and important, but when you put the cleanliness of your home above your own sanity it becomes unhealthy.

3. Stop Equating Your Housekeeping Abilities With Your Worth.

You’ll likely never be featured in Good Housekeeping. And that’s okay. It’s not a poor reflection on your character when you battle through a debilitating illness to maintain your home. It’s as simple as that.

4. Figure Out Your Priorities.

There are going to be trade-offs, no question. You’re going to have to decide whether to go to that birthday party or clean your floors. You’ll have to choose between making dinner or having clean dishes to eat dinner off of.

And sometimes it’ll be better to choose cleaning. Sometimes you’ll be teetering between “not so tidy” and “this is horrible” and you’ll know it’s time to add a little extra work to get back to sanity. But other times you’ll need to remember two simple truths:

  • People are more important than things.
  • There will always be messes to clean.

Tips For Adequate Housekeeping

1. Start With A Clean Slate.

When my husband and I moved into our first apartment at the beginning of our marriage, we didn’t have time to sort through our collective belongings beforehand. So there I sat, beyond exhausted from our wedding, in a tiny apartment with more things than there were places.

Starting with clutter made everything so much more difficult. Even when I cleaned it never felt clean and there was so much organizing to be done it was daunting. And because everything wasn’t organized, upkeep was nearly impossible.

The biggest help came when my mom helped me clean and organize everything from top to bottom. Over the next weeks I was amazed at how much easier it was to maintain the cleanliness.

Every six months I recommend enlisting the assistance of someone else to help you start with a clean slate.

2. Whatever Smells The Worst Goes First.

Priorities while cleaning are essential when your energy is minimal. Start with the stinky stuff. Whatever already smells or has the most potential to smell get’s immediate attention. The awards here almost always go to the dishes, the cat litter, and the garbage cans. These are the first place any energy goes. But on a bad day, I’ve been known to douse my dishes in baking soda to buy myself some time.

In this case, it’s important to know what cuts through smells the quickest. I like using fresh limes or baking soda in my sink.

3. Paper Is A Parasite.

Receipts, catalogs, eviction notices… I’m just kidding, we don’t get eviction notices. But seriously, when you grab the mail, don’t even let it touch your table. It will make itself at home like a parasite finding its host.

For anything that you do keep, such as all those annoying medical bills, pick up one of these babies at your nearest office store.

4. Everything Needs A Home…

Find a cute basket for all of your living room blankets, find another cute basket for all of your cat’s toys. Basically, baskets are the answer to life. Okay, but really. It’s important that, even if it’s not put away, it has an “away” to be put.

5. …Even If That Home Isn’t Your Home.

If you’re not using it and you don’t have a place to put it, let it go. Life is better without clutter. It’s as simple as that.

6. Get Help.

If you can afford to pay someone to come in and help you clean, do not be ashamed of that! And if you can’t, don’t be afraid to reach out to friends or family for assistance. While I’m able to keep up with basic home management (adequate, remember?), I’m simply unable to deep clean my home on a regular basis. This is when I ask my mom or a friend to come help me.

I also regularly ask my husband for help with things like taking out the trash or scooping the cat litter. When he does these things for me during the week it means I can devote my energy to something more substantial like wiping down everything in the bathroom or cleaning out the fridge.

It’s okay to ask for help.

7. Focus Fixes Problems.

Tackle your home one room at a time, even if that means by the time you get to the last room you’re starting all over again. I know that there are messes in those other rooms too, but right now the focus is on this room. Tell this room you’re coming for it. And take it down, little by little, day by day, until you’re ready to move on.

8. Sit Down, Woman.

Seriously, take a break. Watch an episode of Friends and then vacuum. Snuggle your furry friend (that’s a pet, btw, not a hairy person), and then clear the coffee table. Sit as much as you can as you clean or organize.

9. Kill Two Birds With One Stone.

Metaphorically, of course. Leave those actual little birdies alone.

Anytime you can use less energy by multitasking, do it. For example, I keep one of these dish wands in my shower and give everything a quick scrub once a week while I’m letting my conditioner sit in my hair. While showers can already be exhausting for me, doing this takes very minimal energy and everything I clean is immediately rinsed by the water with no extra labor on my part.

10. Find Your Time.

When I clean, which is not every day (GASP!), I typically do so at night. This is for two reasons: first, because I tend to get my second wind for the day around 8:30 pm; and secondly, because I can use whatever energy I have left for that day and then fall straight into bed. For me, I find this does the least amount of damage.

Finding the time of day that works best for you can have a huge impact on how much you’re able to get done.

11. Frugality Has A Price.

I budget and I coupon and I love saving money, but that only goes so far. I dream of being a wife with a stockpile of homemade freezer meals ready to go in the crockpot and an Ibotta balance to be proud of. But my freezer is stocked with frozen pizzas and by the time I get home from grocery shopping I’m done for the day.

Frugality takes more energy and that’s okay sometimes, but it needs to be realized. Because when your energy is more precious than gold, it’s okay to spend an extra dollar here and there to save whatever energy you have.

12. Do What Works For You.

I cannot stress this enough. In the beginning of my housewifing endeavors, I asked for a lot of advice. And while some of it was useful, a lot of it came from people with no experience cleaning with chronic illness and their advice just wasn’t applicable to me. As a result, I learned that it’s okay to find your own way through trial and error.

So while this list is meant to help you, if something on there doesn’t work for you then modify it or get rid of it completely. Drop it like a hot potato. I won’t be insulted.


  1. Amanda says:

    I love this, I am constantly at odds with myself thinking I can get it all done and physically am just not able to…one thing I’ve learned is paper plates are my best friend…standing and washing dished is not.

  2. Jenn says:

    Thank you! I have myasthenia gravis and it’s a juggling act for sure. Today I’m flat on my butt because yesterday I choose to take my sons to an event and then worked on dishes. So today the boys are helping wash, fold, and put away the laundry and I’m supervising.

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